Rejoice Always? Are You Kidding Me?
3rd Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice!”
One time while still in the seminary I drove a long way to a department store warehouse in Portland to get a deal on some flannel sheets for my chilly room in the seminary. I got a great deal, great sheets, and was very pleased with myself when, halfway home, something made me look in the bag: sure enough, I had two fitted flannel sheets in there and no flat sheet. Instead of my normal reaction, which would not have been particularly edifying, I remember thanking God for those fitted sheets. I just thanked and praised God for that ridiculous situation, and a strange thing began to happen: it became rejoicing. This “two fitted sheet” fiasco became an engine of transformation.
The situation may have been trivial, but the principle isn’t. By learning to rejoice in the little setbacks and triumphs of everyday living, we are building our skills for the really crucial tests of character that eventually cross our paths.
Not only is this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, actually dedicated to rejoicing, but during the season of Advent many people have the expectation that life is supposed to be more joyful somehow. Many of us do not always feel so joyful and wonder if there is something gone amiss. Let’s face it: Saint Paul’s commandment to rejoice always makes many of us feel guilty.
Something that has really helped me is the fact that there is a big difference between “joy” and “rejoicing”. Rejoicing is a decision of the will and has nothing to do with our feelings. I can decide to rejoice even if I am feeling lousy. I don’t need to feel any joy in order to rejoice.
Joy, on the other hand, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It can be cultivated, and it is to some extent the fruit of right living, but rejoicing is always available to us. It completely transforms any situation we practice it in. I definitely cannot force myself to feel joy, but I can practice rejoicing in all circumstances. Saint Paul tells us that we are to rejoice always. He says it twice for emphasis. He does not say “have joy always”, which is impossible. One is a feeling, the other is a lifestyle.
Learning to rejoice “always”, that is, in all circumstances, is a habit we can cultivate: it is learned. It is also psychologically healthy and very freeing. Rejoicing essentially means this: thanking and praising God for all things, in all circumstances, all the time. What incredibly different lives we would lead if we began to practice this one principle.